A Terrible Beauty – Northern Lights

On the Holiday Lights program:

In honor of our Fifth Anniversary this season, we will sing two pieces from our very first holiday concert – that mentioned in the former post, “Carol from an Irish Cabin”, and “Northern Lights” by Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjelio.

The composer says “this piece is and its text are about beauty. About a ‘terrible’ beauty, powerful beauty, although the music is quite serene on the surface…” as Gjeilo was looking out his window in Oslo, Norway one Christmas he thought about how “this ‘terrible’ beauty is so profoundly reflected in the northern lights, or aurora borealis…” with such “electric quality…mesmerizing…terrifying…”


      The stunning music sets the text:
Pulchra me, amica mea/suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem/terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata/ Averte oculos tuos a me/quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.

      Which means:
Thou art beautiful, O my love/ sweet and comely as Jerusalem/ terrible as an army set in array/ turn away thy eyes from me, for they have made me flee away.

A Lamb, A Rose, A Cabin

On the Holiday Lights program: three works that will be led by our Assistant Conductor, Frank Whitcomb.

THE LAMB is a sweetly lyrical ballad composed by Christopher Matthews and based on a text by William Blake. Blake’s recognizable text, “Little lamb, who made thee, dost thou know who made thee?” was published in 1776 in “Songs of Innocence.” Blake originally intended his work to be sung, but his musical text was lost. Matthews has set this with a tender hand, evocative of the child-like wonder Blake sought to portray.

      THERE IS NO ROSE by Gary Garcia is based on the same text as Benjamin Britten used in his “Ceremony of Carols,” the rose referring to the Virgin Mary. Garcia’s modern setting is poignant and beautifully melodic. “There is no Rose of such virtue, as is the Rose that bare Jesu – “Res miranda, gaudeamus, transeamus, alleluia!”

       In CAROL FROM AN IRISH CABIN, the lonely speaker, living high above the sea, hopes for a visitor to help welcome a white Christmas. The composer, Dale Wood, musically captures a Celtic spirit in this lovely piece.

Madrigal Singers with Solaris!

Breaking News!

For our Saturday, December 16 concert at College Street Congregational in Burlington, the Champlain Valley Union High School Madrigal Singers (Hinesburg) will join Solaris for the carol “Fum! Fum! Fum!” and also have their solo moment.

We had the pleasure of hearing these young ladies sing for us this last week, and they are really marvelous! Yet another reason to join us for our Holiday Lights concert!

See them performing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSgoJfLntfY

Lux Aurumque

More on Holiday Lights programming: This past summer, Dr. Willis had the opportunity to meet and speak to composer Eric Whitacre. She had been wanting to program his 1999 composition, “Lux Arumque” for some time, and this holiday concert is the time we will proudly present it! It has special meaning to Solaris, as our mission is the “bring light and meaning” to choral works.

Whitacre rose to viral notice through the phenomenon of his online Virtual Choir in 2010, but had been active as composer, conductor, innovator, broadcaster, and charismatic public speaker prior to that time, with his choral compositions ranking among the most popular and frequently performed of the early 21st century.

Whitacre sets the elegant simplicity of the Edward Esch text, that has been translated into Latin, through an extraordinary use of building, cascading human voices.

Lux (Light)
calida gravisque pura velut aurum (warm & heavy as pure gold)
et canunt angeli molliter (and the angels sing softly)
modo natum. (to the newborn babe.)

The Best of Rooms

More on Holiday Lights programming: Solaris has celebrated the works of composer Randall Thompson a lot this year, and continues, with his American choral classic “The Best of Rooms.”

This piece, building as it does to a dramatic climax, features words from Christs Part (1647) by Robert Herrick.

Complete text:”Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er He comes, To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms; Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart.”

Bernstein – Stoehr Connection

More on Holiday Lights programming:

Next on the concert is “Glora Tibi” from “Mass” by Leonard Bernstein, for female voices with tenor soloist Matt DeDiana. Dr. Willis and Frank Whitcomb chose this piece as a tie-in to our performance of Richard Stoehr’s works – Bernstein had been a student of Stoehr at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia!

This snippet of Bernstein’s “Mass”, which he wrote for the 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, is energetic, and typical of Bernstein’s compositional style. Driving, shifting rhythms and tonalities abound, a perfect counterpoint to the exultant text – “Glory to Thee, God.”

The tenor soloist represents the “Celebrant” or priest in the quite theatrical “Mass,” leading his congregants to respond in joyful kind.

Please read previous posts to learn more about the programming for Holiday Lights.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are all wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving! From Turkey Day it’s only 22 days to our first Holiday Lights concert!

Solaris & composer Richard Stoehr

Continuing on with more about our Holiday Lights concerts programming:

We will present two pieces by Richard Stoehr – A Grace for Christmas, and Ave Maria.

If you have been following us for long, you will have seen that Solaris, through Dr. Willis and Dr. Summerfield has made a connection to the music of Stöhr. He was a well-respected composer and teacher in Vienna, Austria prior to WWII, but was forced to flee Europe by the Nazis. During the Anschluss in March 1938 Stöhr had been immediately identified by Nazi officials as a Jew and fired from his position at the Vienna Academy of Music.

In 1939, he emigrated to the United States, and took a position at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (here using the spelling Stoehr). When the war caused Curtis to downsize, Stoehr was out of a position, but quickly found another in Vermont at Saint Michael’s College, where he taught German and also music courses.

He continued at Saint Michael’s until his retirement in 1950 – he also continued to compose prolifically. However, none of his U.S. compositions were published. Saint Michael’s serves as the repository of those works, spanning all genres of music except opera.

During his 50 year career as a teacher his students numbered in the thousands and included Herbert von Karajan, Erich Leinsdorf, Rudolf Serkin, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and Marlene Dietrich. Richard Stoehr died in December, 1967 in Montpelier, Vermont and is buried in Merrill Cemetery in Colchester. More: http://www.richardstoehr.com/saint-michaels-college-the-1940s/

His charming A Grace for Christmas features soloist Brianne Keith, and his setting of Ave Maria features the entire men’s section with tenor soloist David Tetrault.

Magnificat Holidays

More on our Holiday Lights programming: We will perform “Magnificat in B-flat major,” which, though attributed to his student Pergolesi (not in his own time, but from about 1910 on) was written by Francesco Durante. It is as important a piece of 18th-century Italian sacred music as Vivaldi’s “Gloria” or Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater.”

Set in cantata form, it is masterful in use of polyphonic form as well as introducing pre-classical elements that set it apart from other works of its period. Durante wrote a five-part, as well as a four-part version; the more often used four-part version is what Solaris will present.

The Green Taylor String Quartet accompanies, as well as Dr. Susan Summerfield, playing the organ. Solaris members tenor Matt DeDiana, alto Sarah Gleich, bass Mark Madison, and soprano Linda Wheeler are the soloists.

In canonical terms, Magnificat is “the Canticle (song) of Mary,” Mary’s glorification of God in the miracle of the birth of Jesus.